KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — Some of Jenny Agutter’s earliest travelling memories involve driving up to Cameron Highlands with her family when they were living in Singapore.
The beloved British veteran actress and Call The Midwife star has never forgotten visiting the hilly Pahang destination when she was a young girl, several years before her career as a child star took off in the 1960s.
Agutter, 68 told Malay Mail she hasn’t been back to the popular colonial-era hill station but hopes to return one day when travel permits.
“We lived in Singapore, I lived in that heat, with a different culture, I enjoyed all those things but Cameron Highlands was rather magical because it was jungly and exotic,” she said, describing the memory as dream-like.
The food left an impression on the Logan’s Run actress, especially sago gula Melaka, the iconic Malaysian dessert that consists of sago pudding, palm sugar and coconut milk.
“The one thing I remember, (sago) gula Melaka was a dish I just thought was so delicious and I wish I could get it now,” she said.
She also recalls tucking into a tamarillo, a sweet and sour fruit known as buah cinta or love fruit to locals that grows abundantly in Cameron’s cool climate.
“I remember so clearly the sweet fruit, like a tomato that you spooned out,” added Agutter, whose father was a British Army officer.
“We drove up there in a car that would have been exactly like Call The Midwife that my father owned, and we stayed in some rather beautiful lodge.”
“I remember the look and feel of the place and I’d love to go back.”
Agutter who plays Sister Julienne in Call The Midwife said there were plans to film the critically acclaimed BBC series in Malaysia to stand in for Hong Kong but the prospect was dashed by the pandemic.
“I know we would have got such a lot out of it but now travel has just become so much harder,” she said.
Having assumed the role of the sister-in-charge at Nonnatus House for the past 10 seasons, Agutter loves playing the calm, moral beacon to a group of young nurses, whom she says is nothing like herself.
“She has tolerance, great enjoyment of people and she’s a very practical person, she’s someone who takes care of stuff as opposed to trying to change things.
“The world is changing around her so she has to work with a world that is changing,” she said of Sister Julienne, a character who lived through the First and Second World War and witnessed the birth of Britain’s National Health Service.
Playing her longest-running role yet, Agutter credited writer Heidi Thomas for keeping things interesting.
“I’ve never signed up for one year to the next, I've just sort of seen how it’s gone and I thought there are lots of stories that’s occurred and the stories keep coming and they keep being good.”
Season 10 takes place in 1966, a testing time for the midwives and Sister Julienne who is determined to save Nonnatus House from its financial rut but there is also excitement as the women’s rights movement gains momentum.
The multi-award-winning drama which regularly draws over 10 million viewers is often praised for highlighting female social issues that defined the late 50s and 60s, told through the lens of healthcare workers serving a poor community.
“That’s something that in a funny way we forget today because we live in a very different world, a faster world where so much is expected, of what people would do for us, what we can get and what we can buy and have,” Agutter said.
Now more than ever, the period drama might offer audiences watching the show under the unprecedented times of a pandemic some much-needed perspective.
“Through Covid we’ve learned a lot and people now look at the programme seeing it’s such an important thing to belong to a community and it's something in many ways we have begun to forget.
“As we reach out further and further, we forget about what’s close to us,” the Emmy winner said.
Shot during Covid-19, the cast and crew had to wear masks and observe physical distancing which meant they had to work carefully to make things believable on camera.
“Trying to deliver a baby from six-foot away is quite difficult but we have to do it and make it look like it’s real somehow.”
Despite the challenges, the veteran actress is grateful for being able to work through the pandemic.
“Like everybody it just makes one nervous because it’s the first time I felt that life is out of one’s control.
“You always feel there’s an element of control in your life, circumstances can change very easily but you usually can see a sort of future and a way forward,” she added.
The mum of one who recently became a grandmother has also been seeking refuge in her country home and recalls the remarkable quietness during the first lockdown.
“They’re not good times but hopefully we’ve learned through them, I think Sister Julienne would find it quite useful.
“She would have probably thought this was a time for contemplation and looking at what we do and how we destroy stuff,” Agutter said.
Call The Midwife Series 10 premieres today on BBC First (UnifiTV Channel 481) and BBC Player.
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